Like father, like son
Redding author Steve Callan’s new book documents following in his game warden father’s footsteps
Lying prone in the tules under the cover of darkness, Steve Callan was able to remain unnoticed by the two armed duck poachers as they crossed the road in front of him, mere feet away, disappearing briefly into the dry ditch on the opposite side of the road before re-emerging and speeding off in a waiting getaway car. Callan crawled into the ditch, discovering the poachers’ hidden stash of 30 illegally killed ducks.
In this case, the poachers weren’t the only ones who would be facing the wrath of the local game warden. Fourteen-year-old Callan was supposed to have been waiting safely in the car while his father, game warden Wally Callan, searched for the poachers. Young Steve would escape with merely a stern lecture, while the poachers would be spending some time in Glenn County Jail.
Steve Callan would go on to spend 30 years as a game warden for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, experiencing more than enough harrowing adventures and humorous encounters to fill his first book, Badges, Bears, and Eagles, published in 2013. This tale, however, was recounted in his second novel, The Game Warden’s Son, in which Callan harnessed his well-honed storytelling style to write about growing up in Orland as the son of a game warden, and to tell the stories of fellow game wardens who served with both him and his father.
“They asked me if I had anything in mind for a sequel, and I said, ‘Actually, I really do,’” Callan said of a conversation he had with the publishers of his first book, Seattle’s Coffeetown Press. “My dad was a fish and game warden over in Orland between 1960 and 1970, and I spent a lot of time riding on patrol with my dad. So I said, this time, I’ll start back in the 1950s, when this all began.”
The book, released in March, opens with Callan as a child in Southern California, patrolling the Channel Islands with his father. In search of a more rural lifestyle, his family made its way to Orland, where a young Callan got the chance to tag along with his father in pursuit of commercial duck poachers, deer spotlighters and other unsavory characters before becoming a game warden himself in 1974. Interspersed with Callan’s own stories as a game warden, first in remote Southeastern California and later as supervisor of the game warden force in Shasta County, are those of others in the field in Butte, Modoc and many other Northern California counties.
As with his first book, Callan said that he hopes The Game Warden’s Son will give readers a clearer picture of what game wardens actually do.
“I wanted people to know that there’s a whole lot more to the job; Fish and Wildlife officers are involved in a whole lot more than just checking fishing licenses,” Callan said. “People say, ‘Well, did you actually carry a gun?’ Of course we did. Fish and Wildlife officers had the most law enforcement power of anybody in the state, jurisdiction-wise. And [with] federal law, related to wildlife; we were deputized U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents also.”
Increasing regulation of hunting and fishing has done little to protect many of California’s most precious natural resources, Callan said. Beyond his work in the field, he’s also been involved in a number of other conservation projects, including working with city and county officials on establishing development-free zones along the Sacramento River and its tributaries in Shasta County. He said he does his best to remain optimistic about the future of wild spaces in California.
“Hopefully we can conserve as much as possible, but it’s a battle,” Callan said. “What kind of life would this be if we didn’t have wildlife and open space? I wouldn’t want to live in a world like that.”
And despite spending his career in pursuit of hunters running afoul of the law, Callan said that law-abiding hunters and fishermen are foremost among those doing their part to conserve what’s left of natural spaces and native animals.
“Hunters and fishermen pay the bills. They’re not responsible for the diminishing of wildlife resources. It’s loss of habitat, it’s commercializing wildlife, it’s pollution, all these different things; legal hunters and fishers are actually beneficial. A lot of the habitat we have is because of money from legal sport hunters and fishers.”
Although Callan could easily be spending his retirement years as one of those hunters or fishermen, enjoying the quiet solitude of the outdoors, instead, he and his wife, Kathy, travel California promoting his books and giving presentations, hoping to pass along what he’s learned over the course of a childhood and career spent in California’s wild spaces.
“That’s the main reason I wrote the book, to impress upon people how important it is to value wildlife and to protect what we have left,” Callan said. “We’re not making a million bucks doing this. It’s because we want to help spread the word.”